Beethoven Rolls Over: Improv Duel

Ludwig van Beethoven

I still remember how one day Gelinek told my father that he was invited to a party that evening where he was to oppose a foreign virtuoso in a pianistic duel.

“I’ll fix him,” Gelinek added.

Next day my father asked Gelinek about the outcome of the battle.

Gelinek looked quite crestfallen and said: “Yesterday was a day I’ll remember! That young fellow must be in league with the devil. I’ve never heard anybody play like that! I gave him a theme to improvise on, and I assure you I’ve never even heard Mozart improvise so admirably.”

“Then he played some of his own compositions, which are marvelous – really wonderful – and he manages difficulties and effects at the keyboard that we never even dreamed of.”

“I say, what’s his name?” asked my father with some astonishment.

“He is a small, ugly, swarthy young fellow, and seems to have a willful disposition,” answered Gelinek.

“Prince Lichnowsky brought him to Vienna from Germany to let him study composition with Haydn, Albrechtsberger, and Salieri, and his name is Beethoven.

–Carl Czerny


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